Buddy Ball struck again for Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament.
Despite shooting 2-for-8 in the first half, Buddy Hield finished with 36 points as the Sooners defeated VCU 85-81, advancing to the Sweet 16 in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2003.
But the pure point total doesn’t even do Hield justice. The senior dropped 29 second-half points, seemingly hitting clutch jumper after clutch jumper to send the Sooners to the win. Step-back jumpers that he created off the dribble. Shots on the move after receiving the ball off of a screen. Open spot-up looks that the Rams somehow didn’t cover up defensively. Every single possible look, Hield hit it and sent his team back to the Sweet 16.
Simply put, Hield took over the game when he needed to for Oklahoma, scoring 21 of the Sooners’ final 26 points. Oklahoma needed every one of those points, too, after VCU made a late-game run.
Oklahoma got out to an easy 14-point lead in the first eight minutes, but that didn’t quite hold against the tough Rams under first-year coach Will Wade. The Rams chipped away at the lead, eventually going in front with seven minutes to play. But it wasn’t enough to hold back Hield and the Sooners. The Naismith Player of the Year finalist hit a 3 to give the Sooners a 69-67 lead that they’d never relinquish, as Hield dropped 16 over that final seven-minute stretch.
Because of his late-game heroics — and the early contributions of Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins, who kept the team afloat while Hield scuffled along in the first half — Oklahoma moves on to play either Northern Iowa or Texas A&M in the Sweet 16. With Denzel Valentine and Tyler Ulis out of the dance, Hield will be the story, and the best player, going forward.
Can he lead Oklahoma to its first Final Four since 2002 and the first NCAA title in school history?
It’s up for debate, but if he continues to play like this the Sooners will certainly be in that mix.